Portions of this article have been updated.
“East Harlem will always be and should always be the spiritual cradle of the Puerto Rican community,” Fernando Ferrer said in 1999. But the neighborhood has continued its history of immigrant flux: A community board plan that same year found that “Puerto Ricans are following the traditional migratory pattern of leaving East Harlem.” Today, the presence of newcomers, mostly Mexican, Central American, and Dominican, as well as the single white post-collegiate set (“Discover the New East Harlem,” blares a Voice classified headline), is unmistakable. But a whiff of Boricua artistic renaissance also is in the air. Local artists are now calling the area between 107th and 104th streets around Lexington—where galleries old and new, open mics, and classes in the island’s music and dance are thriving—El Barrio’s “cultural corridor.”
Boundaries: Roughly 142nd Street to the north and 96th Street to the south, between the East River and Fifth Avenue
Mass Transit: From Union Square, 25 minutes to 125th Street on the 4 or 5 train or between 30 and 45 minutes to 96th, 103rd, 110th, or 116th street on the 6. There’s a Metro-North stop at 125th and Park Avenue.
Average Price to Rent:Studio, $900 and up ($775 to 900); one-bedroom, $1,000 and up ($875 to $1200); two-bedroom, $1,300 and up ($1000 to $1600); three-bedroom, $1,500 and up ($1250 to $2000)
Average Price to Buy: Brownstone, $1 million (up to $500,000)
Museums, Galleries, Studios: El Museo del Barrio (1230 Fifth Avenue); El Taller Boricua, Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center (the Taller, a Nuyorican arts organization founded in 1970, provides gallery space, studios, and instruction to local youth. It shares the Burgos center with Los Pleneros de la 21 and the Heritage School; 1680 Lexington); Galería De La Vega (the prolific muralista and ubiquitous sidewalk-chalking philosopher shows and sells his work, 1651 Lexington); Mixta Gallery (home to a revolving exhibit of local artists’ work and poetry readings, run by painter Tanya Torres, 1706 Lexington).
Cultural Institutions: Islamic Cultural Center (1711 Third Avenue); the Union Settlement Association (237 East 104th), a 107-year-old education and human services organization, holds an annual ethnic festival on 104th between Second and Third avenues; La Marqueta, at the corner of 116th and Park, a bazaar under the Metro-North track dating back to 1927.
Record Stores: Check out Casa Latina (151 116th) on El Barrio’s bustling main drag. Just say, “Willie Colón,” or “Ray Barreto,” and Faustino will arrange dozens of CDs on the counter like a banquet spread.
Notable Residents: Pay your respects on the recently christened Tito Puente Way. El Rey del Timbal grew up in the only tenement left on the block, at 110th between Madison and Park. Also born in the neighborhood were classic salseros Eddie and Charlie Palmieri; contemporary salsero Marc Anthony; novelist Oscar Hijuelos; Marta Morena Vega, author and founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center; and actors Erik Estrada and Al Pacino.
Best Restaurants: El Barrio is dotted with excellent lunch counters; I’m partial to the chicharron de pollo at La Isla (1883 Third Avenue). A block away (on 103rd between Third and Lex) is La Alegria bakery, where you’ll find the perfect after-meal Bustelo and pastries. If you need some fiber, the Mexican street-food market along 116th has just the thing: mango on a stick. For a dollar, they come skinned and impaled—wedges handily cut into the flesh like artichoke leaves—and if you want, garnished with hot sauce, lemon juice, and salt. When you’re hungry again, head to the Tacomix stand (234 116th)—alucinante.
Local Politicians: Councilman Philip Reed, Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator José M. Serrano, all Democrats
Crime Stats: According to the 23rd Precinct, and the 25th, which covers Randalls and Wards islands in addition to East Harlem, as of September 4, 2005 there were 10 murders, 43 rapes, 378 robberies, 338 felony assaults, and 176 burglaries. (According to the 23rd Precinct, and the 25th, which covers Randalls and Wards islands in addition to East Harlem, as of June 2 there were six homicides (the same as last year); 14 rapes (compared to 21 last year), 250 robberies (five more than last year); 203 felony assaults (down from 251 last year); and 105 burglaries (compared to 141 last year)).